Alex Lange Looks to Breakout in ‘Pen
Alex Lange has had a full season as a reliever and wants to refine his command and control en route to pitching the Detroit Tigers Bullpen in 2021.
Alex Lange was a late pick in the Chicago Cubs first round of the 2017 MLB Draft. Lange, who had a 150-hit season and a college World Series appearance at LSU, was highly regarded for his mid-ball fastball 90s and a performance curve that outweighed concerns about his high performance and inconsistent command. After the design, Lange developed as a starter in the Cubs organization for a few seasons before it was finally sold to the Detroit Tigers at the close of trading in 2019 with Paul Richan for Nick Castellanos. After the deal was closed, the Tigers announced that Lange would move to a relief role where his stuff would play better and give him the chance to hit the MLB in a short amount of time.
Alex Lange would have been eligible for the recently completed Rule 5 draft, but the Detroit Tigers added him to the 40-man roster based on other options such as Wenceel Perez, Elvin Rodriguez and Will Vest. The decision to protect Lange speaks volumes about the Tigers’ faith in him as an MLB helper who can help them sooner rather than later. Long has all three of his minor league options left should he play for the Tigers and later have to be sent back down.
Lange has a relatively simple repertoire – a fastball with a decent late life that’s between 93 and 95 mph but can hit 96, a sloppy curveball that has the chance to be good with a little refinement, and a change which has developed significantly since its design. In the limited-edition video we’ve seen from Lange since the end of the 2019 season, it seems like he moved away from the switch and focused on the fastball / cornering combo as he moved on to full-time relief.
Although Lange has cleaned up his shipment significantly since his draft, the same concerns that dropped him by the end of the first round remain. He has maximum performance that leaves no room for extra fastball speed and raises concerns about his ability to last a full season, even in a medium relief role. Its delivery adds some deception as it hides the ball well before it explodes on the plate.
From a pure “stuff” perspective, Lange has what it takes to be a low-leverage option for the Tigers to relieve funds. His control has been pervasive since he came to Detroit, however, and he has to show a substantial improvement in command so his stuff can play in the MLB. In 2018, Lange looked like he was on his way to development and control and only went 2.9 hits per nine, but he stalled in 2019, went 4.5 hits per nine innings and was behind in that regard Trade with Detroit worse. After a year at the alternate location to focus on his control outside the bullpen, he has to show that 2019 was a slip on the radar.
Even if Lange shows a renewed ability to avoid handing out free tickets, he also has to refine his command. We haven’t seen him consistently place his fastball at the corners of the plate and instead he bleeds too often all over the heart of the plate. Whenever he chases his curveball in the dirt, he has a sharp bite and great depth – we saw him fool a few Tiger Hitters with that pitch in spring practice last year. Relying on the curve in the dirt is not enough, however; Lange must do better to throw the field for strikes early in the count. He has tried to use the “overcome me” curve to his advantage, and even if he throws a curve into the zone, it flattens out and loses its sharp break. This becomes even more critical to his success once he has actually decided to cancel his switch.
Lange certainly has the opportunity to step into the Bullpen of the Detroit Tigers sometime in 2021. The organization has demonstrated its belief in him by adding him to the 40-man list. Now it’s up to him to refine his command and control to get MLB hitters out.